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World roundup: November 9 2021
Stories from Ethiopia, Belarus, Nicaragua, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
November 8, 960: The Battle of Andrassos
November 8, 2002: The United Nations Security Council unanimously passes Resolution 1441, calling on Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to disarm under the terms of previous UN resolutions or face “serious consequences.” Funny story: Hussein had already disarmed, but we got to see what the serious consequences were anyway! It all really worked out just swell.
November 9, 1799: In the Coup of 18 Brumaire, Napoleon Bonaparte forces the Directory and its legislature to disband and replaces that government with the French Consulate, with Napoleon himself as First Consul. Napoleon engineered the coup to overthrow the Directory and simultaneously sideline his fellow coup plotters, leaving him as the most powerful man in France.
November 9, 1989: A (botched, as it turns out) announcement by the East German government that it would open checkpoints along the Berlin Wall leads a throng of East Berlin residents to the wall in an attempt to get into West Berlin. Amid the crowds of people trying to cross, some began chipping pieces off of the wall, and over the next several weeks what had been the most in-your-face symbol of the Cold War was torn down.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
After multiple world leaders spent their time at the COP26 climate summit making ambitious but conspicuously long-term pledges to cut emissions, new research from the group Climate Action Tracker finds that humanity is on pace to warm the Earth by a disastrous 2.4-2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. The 2016 Paris Agreement identified a 2 degree temperature increase as something to be avoided at all costs, so going half a degree over that is probably not a good idea. CAT’s estimate is based not on the fanciful promises made at COP26 but on what governments and corporations are doing right now, which is, in technical terms, “jack shit.” I’m assuming it does not take into account the new revelation that we’ve all been gleefully undercounting the amount of global carbon emissions for years, which would only make these estimates worse.
UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan visited Damascus on Tuesday for a meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that marks Assad’s highest profile meeting with an Arab diplomat since the start of the Syrian civil war. You can mark this down as another step on the road to rehabilitating Assad within the Arab world now that he’s won the war, an effort that’s in many ways been spearheaded by the Emiratis. That road is inevitably going to be a long one, in large part because the threat of US sanctions looms over any Arab attempt to normalize relations with Assad’s government. The US State Department made it clear that it knew about Sheikh Abdullah’s trip ahead of time but is not particularly thrilled about it and does not support these normalization efforts. That said, since the Emiratis worked this out with Washington beforehand they’re clearly aware of the risk of sanctions and aren’t looking to do anything that might trigger them.
In its latest daily update to its Yemeni kill count, the Saudi military said Tuesday that its forces had eliminated at least 110 Houthi fighters over the previous day in airstrikes around Maʾrib city. Elsewhere, a bombing in Aden on Tuesday claimed the life of a pregnant Yemeni journalist and her child. Four people, including her husband, were wounded. There’s been no claim of responsibility for the bombing. There are al-Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates active in southern Yemen along with southern separatist militants.
At Responsible Statecraft, the Center for International Policy’s Sky Berry-Weiss looks at the Turkish cash that Ankara has poured into the DC think tank community:
Take for instance the Brookings Institution’s “Turkey Project” that is a collaboration with the Turkish Industry and Business Association, or TÜSİAD, which has shelled out at least $900,000 to Brookings from 2016-2021. TÜSİAD is Turkey’s pro-Westernization business organization (their counterpart is the Muslim MÜSİAD), which stands to benefit from efforts to downplay Ergodan’s rising authoritarianism, while promoting increased U.S. ties to Turkey. And, that is precisely what many Brookings reports offer, with policy recommendations that include reconsidering U.S. tariffs, maintaining Turkey’s membership in NATO (even with the contentious Turkish purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system), and finalizing the deal on Turkey’s EU membership prospects.
In addition to providing public platforms for Turkish officials and producing work favorable to Turkish donors, many of the think tanks that receive funding from Turkish sources also work with Turkey’s registered foreign agents. A new report from the Center for International Policy reveals that lobbyists working for Turkish clients made 83 contacts to U.S. think tanks in 2020, alone. For example, in 2020, staff at the Center for Strategic and International Studies had three meetings with Turkish government officials and received between $100,000-$499,999 in financial contributions from the government of Turkey in FY 2019 alone. CSIS doesn’t make its past donors available on its website, making it impossible to discern how much additional funding this prominent think tank has received from Turkey.
The Washington Post reports on new revelations of a dystopian surveillance network that Israeli occupation forces have constructed in the West Bank:
The Israeli military has been conducting a broad surveillance effort in the occupied West Bank to monitor Palestinians by integrating facial recognition with a growing network of cameras and smartphones, according to descriptions of the program by recent Israeli soldiers.
The surveillance initiative, rolled out over the past two years, involves in part a smartphone technology called Blue Wolf that captures photos of Palestinians’ faces and matches them to a database of images so extensive that one former soldier described it as the army’s secret “Facebook for Palestinians.” The phone app flashes in different colors to alert soldiers if a person is to be detained, arrested or left alone.
To build the database used by Blue Wolf, soldiers competed last year in photographing Palestinians, including children and the elderly, with prizes for the most pictures collected by each unit. The total number of people photographed is unclear but, at a minimum, ran well into the thousands.
Two more people—a grocery store worker and a police officer—have been gunned down in Srinagar over the past couple of days, in what looks like a continuation of a targeted murder campaign by Kashmiri separatists. At least 42 people have been killed in Kashmir over the past month, 13 of them in these sorts of targeted attacks on civilians. Most of those victims have been either non-Muslim Kashmiris or non-Kashmiris who have moved into the region.
Sara Duterte-Carpio on Tuesday announced that she will not run for reelection as mayor of Davao City after all, all but confirming that she intends to run either for president or vice-president. Duterte-Carpio has consistently denied that she’s interested in running to succeed her father, Rodrigo Duterte, as president, even as she’s consistently led opinion polls for next year’s race. There’s some speculation that she could run for vice-president on a “ticket”1 with registered presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., or that Marcos could switch races and run to be Duterte-Carpio’s VP. Registered candidates for next year’s elections have until November 15 to change races, so Duterte-Carpio’s plans should become clear fairly soon.
A planned virtual summit between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping could take place as soon as next week if the two sides can work out the arrangements in time, according to Reuters. It’s unclear what they’ll be hoping to achieve in this meeting, which is supposed to take place before the end of the year even if it doesn’t come together next week, but it kind of sounds like the Biden administration is starting to worry that it’s New Cold War rhetoric has gone too far and they’re looking to lower the temperature a bit.
Tuvaluan Foreign Minister Simon Kofe says officials in that island nation are researching whether it will be legally possible to retain their statehood and their control of maritime zones if the country is entirely submerged due to climate change. This may sound like a zany thought experiment but it’s very real, since Tuvalu is at serious risk due to sea level rise. This was a point Kofe tried to hammer home during his video address to the COP26 summit in Glasgow:
According to Kofe, the spot he chose to deliver his address used to be dry land. Now? Not so much. Sounds like precisely the kind of immediate challenge that the summit has mostly failed to address.
A Sudanese court on Tuesday ordered the country’s ruling junta to restore the internet access it’s shut down in an effort to disrupt protests. Most Sudanese have gone more than two weeks without internet access, which in addition to hampering efforts to oppose last month’s coup may also be providing cover for armed groups in Darfur to carry out attacks against civilian populations, according to an official with the Coordinating Committee for Refugees and Displaced People. Negotiations on restoring a civilian transitional government have ground to a halt, and given that it’s already seized power in a coup something tells me the Sudanese military isn’t going to worry too much about honoring a court order.
One man died overnight in Tunisia’s Sfax province after inhaling tear gas during a protest over the government’s decision to reopen a large garbage dump near the town of Agareb. Witnesses claim the man was brought to a hospital to be treated for asphyxia after enduring an initial tear gas attack by security forces and then died when security forces fired more tear gas in the vicinity of the hospital. Residents of Agareb forced the closure of the dump, the largest in Sfax province, in September. But the government has failed to find an alternative site, hence the decision to reopen it.
The Ethiopian government has reportedly detained some 16 United Nations staff and dependents, presumably because they’re Tigrayan though there’s no confirmation of that as far as I’m aware. There have been reports of a wave of arrests of ethnic Tigrayans in Addis Ababa as the rebel Tigray People’s Liberation Front advances on the capital, but like most things about the Ethiopian conflict the details of those detentions cannot be confirmed. Authorities insist they’ve only arrested supporters of the outlawed TPLF and are not targeting people by ethnicity. They’ve accused these UN workers of the fantastically vague charges of “wrongdoing” and “participation in terror.”
A new report from Amnesty International alleges that TPLF fighters have sexually assaulted women in parts of Ethiopia’s Amhara region that have come under their control. The number of survivor and witness statements is apparently too small to characterize this behavior as “systematic” but the reports findings do suggest a scale of sexual violence on par with what Tigrayan women have reported at the hands of Amhara, Eritrean, and other attacking forces.
The dispute over the influx of migrants attempting to cross from Belarus into neighboring European Union member states (particularly Lithuania and Poland) continued to escalate on Tuesday. A spokesperson for the European Commission criticized “the inhuman and really gangster-style approach of the [Alexander] Lukashenko regime that he is lying to people, he is misusing people, misleading them, and bringing them to Belarus under the false promise of having easy entry into the EU.” Minsk has denied encouraging the migrants and has criticized the Polish government especially for its militarization of the border.
EU officials are reportedly in contact with the leaders of 13 countries—Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Georgia, Guinea, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, the Republic of the Congo, Tajikistan, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates—encouraging them to take steps to stem the flow of migrants to Belarus, and they say they’re “monitoring” 20 more countries. They’ve also suspended a program that streamlines the EU visa process for Belarusian officials. Ever helpful, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested on Tuesday that the EU should pay Belarus to stop the migrant wave, similar to the deal Brussels cut with Turkey over the same issue back in 2016. Never say never, I guess, but I doubt that’s going to happen.
The Romanian Liberal Party appears to have abandoned efforts to rebuild its previous ruling coalition and is instead reaching out to the opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD) along with the smaller ethnic Hungarian UDMR party. The Save Romania Union (USR) quit the coalition, causing it to lose a parliamentary no-confidence motion last month. USR and the Liberals have been talking about restoring their partnership but apparently those talks have collapsed. Leaders of the PSD, which actually controls more parliamentary seats than the Liberal Party, sound like they’re making some substantial demands in return for joining a new coalition, and there’s some indication that this new direction isn’t universally acceptable to Liberal Party members. In other words, these negotiations could be protracted and there’s definitely no guarantee they’ll succeed.
Polling has indicated for some time now that far-right political writer Éric Zemmour has caught up to or even surpassed Marine Le Pen as the main threat to Emmanuel Macron’s reelection in next year’s presidential campaign. A new survey from Harris Interactive that was published on Tuesday has Zemmour opening up a little distance with Le Pen, coming in at 18-19 percent compared with her 15-16 percent, depending on who the other candidates in the field are. That would put him in a runoff with Macron, who’s drawing 23-24 percent support and has a fairly sizable lead on Zemmour in a hypothetical second round. Zemmour’s politics are if anything further right than Le Pen’s, though I’m not sure there’s a meaningful difference between them.
The Chilean Chamber of Deputies voted on Tuesday to advance President Sebastián Piñera’s impeachment case to the Senate for trial. Piñera, whose approval rating can on a good day be seen through an electron microscope, came under fire last month when the Pandora Papers leak revealed some possible financial shenanigans related to his family’s sale of a mining company. He’s denied any wrongdoing. The chances of his conviction in the Senate seem fairly small, and even if he were convicted Chilean voters will be electing a new president later this month (well, in a forthcoming runoff but you get the idea) anyway.
The Biden administration is, unsurprisingly, planning to roll out new sanctions against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, following his easy reelection on Sunday in a vote US officials have dismissed as rigged. It’s unclear whether these sanctions will target Ortega himself, though that seems unlikely as the administration undoubtedly wants to be able to ramp its economic pressure up over time and sanctioning Ortega now would preclude that.
The US will also push for a condemnation of the election when the Organization of American States holds its general assembly session in Guatemala later this week, though given that Ortega is a leftist, if recent history is any indication it won’t have to push very hard. Indeed, the OAS has already condemned the election, albeit not in an assembly vote, calling for its “annulment” in a statement issued Tuesday. If you’re getting flashbacks to the November 2019 coup that ousted then-Bolivian President Evo Morales at this point I wouldn’t blame you, but while anything is possible my guess is that Ortega’s position vis-à-vis Nicaragua’s security establishment is more secure than Morales’s was vis-à-vis Bolivia’s.
Finally, at The New York Times, Stephen Wertheim has a radical thought for reducing the unilateral war-making power of the US presidency—force Congress to do its job:
Suppose President Biden came before Congress to announce that ending the war in Afghanistan was only the beginning. In recent years, the United States has used force on the ground or conducted strikes from the air in at least nine countries: not only Afghanistan but also Iraq, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. These wars go on in part because one person wages them. Congress has abdicated its constitutional duty to determine whether, where and whom America should fight.
Mr. Biden inherited this situation, but he need not perpetuate either the ongoing wars or the legal evasions that enable them. He could tell Congress this: It has six months to issue a formal declaration of the wars it wants to continue, or else the troops (and planes and drones) are coming home.
Were he to deliver such an ultimatum, Mr. Biden would, in a stroke, usher in a new era of U.S. foreign policy. Of course, the president would be attacked for shirking his responsibility. But the responsibility to declare war rightly belongs to Congress, and if Congress keeps passing the buck, then Mr. Biden, his successor or the voting public ought to insist that it fulfill its obligations. Otherwise, a lone individual will continue to direct the largest military the world has ever seen, while 333 million Americans fight, pay and mostly watch our wars unfold.
Philippine presidents and vice-presidents run separately so a “ticket” is really an informal alliance.